Hey folks, Harry here with Alexandra DuPont and her rather unique looks at KILL BILL and BUBBA HO-TEP --- both films that are AICN faves... Here take isn't exactly toting the "party line" but then, she continually refuses Hercules' proposals and my suggestive come-hithers. Just as a note, BUBBA HO-TEP expands to 9 Theaters in Los Angeles this weekend, so get your ass out there and support that little film so it finds an audience in the rest of the country and world! Here ya go...
I. KILL BILL's big fat elephant
Holding a pre-release discussion of Kill Bill at this point is a bit like trying to hand out leaflets while the Martians invade London, so I'll be brief. There's a lot to love in KB -- the fight scenes are beautiful and contain an internal narrative rhythm; the music swings; the power-hose arterial sprays are a sick delight; Uma is terrific; loved the Charlie Chan Texas Rangers; the anime O-Ren backstory is nothing short of jaw-dropping; Chiaki Kuriyama's face veers wonderfully between schoolgirl brightness and a sick leer; Sonny Chiba could sauter wires with his eyeballs; the blending of genres is a lot smoother than expected; the shift to black-and-white and back to color is an innovative MPAA workaround that actually becomes artful; the references to the history of cat-piss Grindhouse cinema are heartfelt. For many if not most of you, this movie will well and truly raise its goblet of rock, and for that I am glad.
And I don't think this will just have been me;
And Jackie Brown is my favorite Tarantino movie, so take the following with a grain of salt;
And I'm trying to spark a discussion here;
And I should also note that I saw the film with someone who bloody well hated it, and may be feeding off those vibes, and that also I read the script online, which was an enormous and abiding mistake that I will never again repeat;
... There's stuff in Kill Bill that left me totally flat. Really. David "I'll Dish on a Wachowski for Personal Glory While Sanctimoniously Ordering You to 'Look in the Mirror'" Poland will not have been alone in his opinion when the smoke clears on this one.
Make no mistake -- this is a cool movie. But a few things kept it from being great for me. I will now list these perceived flaws, which may fade with a second viewing, and wonder if any of you will agree when the weekend's over:
(1) I thought the dialogue was really, really flat. Mind you, this is a different criticism from "The dialogue wasn't Tarantino-esque!" -- which is what a lot of people will be saying. What I'm trying to say is that a pastiche that tries to convey to the masses one's passionate love for a genre can't merely upgrade the acting, cinematography, soundtrack and editing during re-packaging -- you have to re-animate the dialogue, too. And I'm sorry, but the most memorable line in Kill Bill is "My name is Buck, and I like to fuck." Not good enough. Especially from this writer.
(2) Some of the supporting roles (I'm thinking specifically of the orderly Buck) go to actors who appear to be congratulating themselves for being in a Tarantino movie.
(3) There were just too many shots in there of people looking with forced awe at Hattori Hanzo swords. It got dull. Especially in the scene with Lucy Liu after the spectacular battle in the House of Blue Leaves.
(4) I'm sorry, but the temperature in my preview audience was lower than expected. Everybody laughed at the splatter (disturbing but not surprising) and the wicked-sweet "Shaw Scope" and "Our Feature Presentation" bumpers and any line that contained the word "fuck" or a squeal of agony, and they were certainly attentive, but there was only a spattering of applause at the end.
Because I've read the script (stupid stupid stupid!), I know that the dramatic payoff is coming in Vol. 2; the online script just got better and better. But I simply cannot give Vol. 1 an unqualified rave. Will I go see it again? Absolutely. Maybe, as with "The Matrix Reloaded," adjusted expectations will lead to a more merciful second viewing. But I think this is a film that will divide even its geek audience. Pray I'm wrong.
IK. The somber surprises in BUBBA HO-TEP
I think there's probably an Entertainment Weekly piece in our future about the way that the Internet has turned lovers of trash-n-slash cinema into a unified, distinct lobbying force. The piece (to be written by Carina Chocano, most likely) will be titled "Ain't It Cool Moves," with the subhead "How Harry Knowles's Gravitational Pull Turned Studio Heads to Trash," or something equally cringe-inducing.
Chocano -- who specializes in squinky pieces of Gen-X superfluff -- will abuse lots of horrible puns about zits and Harry's girth as she explores the way filmmakers now specifically craft flicks to cater to the fetishy interests embraced by sites like AICN, Film Threat and CHUD, which studio chiefs and indie filmmakers now recognize as the vanguard of a loosely organized niche market.
If I may take over for the future Ms. Chocano: This is a very real trend. For years, Harcourt Fenton Knowles et al bitched online about the lack of bared tits in mainstream horror; somehow, the tits miraculously returned. They bitched about the lack of innovative, funny gore; the gore returned, or is at least trying to. They proudly crowed (in an organized online fashion from around 1995 on) about their love of exploitation and corny sci-fi and zombies in unlikely settings and Asian fu and the passionate underpinnings of trash gone by -- throwing in the odd reference to such Fortean geek-camp icons as Elvis and UFOs and, oh, I don't know, anime tentacle rape -- and suddenly, lo and behold, filmmakers high and low on the totem pole (seeking niche box office and first-film street cred, respectively) started making flicks that pushed all the proscribed geek buttons, as if they'd suddenly realized that Joe Bob Briggs wasn't the only one.
Anyway, all the above was running through my head as I walked out of Bubba Ho-Tep: The movie felt like it had been custom-designed to ensnare the eyeballs of H.F. Knowles. I could almost hear the filmmakers ticking off the story elements: "The undead? Check! Elvis? Check! JFK conspiracy theories? Check! Stupid Bruce Campbell one-liners? Check! A trailer-trash setting? Check! Latent oral fixation? Check!" I'm not knocking the flick, mind you -- it's a much more nuanced piece of work than that, which I'll get to in a minute -- but between this and Kill Bill and all the high-grade pap-smears of revisionist horror we've been enjoying lately (or not), it feels like we're entering an unprecedented New Geek Era. Congrats, you band of outsiders: You've officially been co-opted. When it produces 28 Days Later and The Ring, good; when it produces Underworld and House of the Dead, maybe not so much.
Which brings us to Bubba Ho-Tep. The movie (which looks like it was made for like $1.95) was such a little play-by-play textbook of how to make an "AICN Movie" that I was a little surprised no one had made it sooner. The story of an aging Elvis living out his final days in a nursing home, only to have his slow decline interrupted by the arrival of a cowboy-attired Egyptian mummy who eats people's souls through their anal sphincters, feels like a textbook coffee-shop conversation answer to "What would the ultimate cult/geek movie pitch be?" Casting Bruce Campbell as Elvis and throwing in a black man (Ossie Davis) who thinks he's JFK and helps Elvis solve a Scooby-Doo-esque mystery is just the bloody gravy on this pop sundae.
Now, all that said, it's a testament to director/screenwriter Don Coscarelli (working from a short story by Joe R. Lansdale) that the movie isn't quite what you'd expect in terms of tone. The above story précis makes it sound like "Bubba Ho-Tep" will be all winks and titters, with lots of proto-Raimi "Catheter Cam" shots. Mind you, that's all there -- I don't think I've seen a film in years that dwelled so heavily on the bung-hole and the pee-pee, not even Freddy Got Fingered -- but the movie's much, much more somber than that.
That's right -- somber. For one thing, Elvis spends the first half-hour of the movie confined to his bedside, enduring humiliating applications of ointment for some sort of unspecified penile blister and watching his roommates die, powerless to help. Campbell gives, I can't believe I'm writing this, a career performance as the debauched Elvis. He just disappears into the part. There's this one scene where he gazes longingly at the delicious thronged buttocks of his just-deceased roommate's semi-estranged daughter (Heidi Marnhout) and, after a lengthy monologue about his lost virility, Elvis and the daughter have an exchange about the man's Purple Heart, his life, and the quiet nuances of regret. Mind you, I thought this was a setup to have a nubile young thing tag along with JFK and Elvis so we'd have one booty that wasn't hooked up to a colostomy bag while our heroes rolled around and made wisecracks. But the skirt's really only there for the one scene.
That was kind of interesting.
Now, I should note here that sneaking some sadness or themes of regret into what's supposed to be a pure genre exercise is, at this point, a cliché in and of itself -- something I think filmmakers put in their B-movies so that reviewers like yours truly can write about them and puff up a little at the keyboard (like they did in grad school, when they wrote that thesis about the theological underpinnings of "Popeye") as they convince themselves they've actually had a meaningful experience watching a B-movie when they were really watching just watching a slasher film with a "meaningful" cutaway to a crucifix or something. Most of the time, that's just kitsch. But the sadness in Bubba Ho-Tep was pervasive enough that it didn't feel like a wink (or a wank). There's this strange gravity in watching Campbell and Ossie Davis (who brings the same level of thoughtful professionalism to this that he brings to the good Spike Lee movies, which is nothing short of heroic, IMHO) hobble along, hopelessly outmatched by the mummy, deciding to march into death bravely, having at least tried to kick somebody's ass along the way. It was kind of sweet.
All that said, the surprisingly somber sweetness didn't really seem to work for everybody in my audience. The "geek-cred" elements -- the bits where Bruce Campbell gets told to "suck Anubis' dog-dick" by the mummy and all that crap -- really aren't that clever, and people who came to the movie expecting Evil Dead with wheelchairs will be kind of let down afterward. (As one friend put it, "The movie needed more Zucker.") But still.
Warmest, Alexandra DuPont
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